Flyers 5: Takeaways from Friday’s Flyers-Penguins Game
The start of any season can come with good and bad results. There may be bad results on the scoreboard, but good things to build on in the systems and execution on the ice. There can be good end results to games, but poor execution. So far, the Flyers have had their share of both.
The good is simple: the Flyers did not play close to their best on Friday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins and still won 5-2. The bad: it was a sloppy game throughout, a game that required goaltending to be at its best and may have cost the Flyers their top forward.
A win is a win, and the Flyers will gladly take the two points from this game and move on, but there is still a lot to work on as the season takes shape.
Here are 5 takeaways from Friday’s Flyers win over the Penguins.
1. Hart Takes Center Stage
In the season opener, Carter Hart was not the central story, overshadowed by the returns of Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom and Joel Farabee’s breakout game. That said, he was still very good in his season debut and made a number of key saves with the game tied in the second and third and after the Flyers re-gained the lead for good.
In the second game of the season, he was the reason the Flyers won the game.
Don’t let the final score deceive you. The 5-2 margin was the result of a timely late goal and an empty-net goal. Otherwise, this was a close game the entire way through, especially as the Flyers dealt with a shorthanded lineup and sloppy play. Hart was there to make all of the key saves, and after the Penguins struck for two goals in 32 seconds in the first to cut a three-goal deficit to one, Hart was perfect from there.
For the second straight game, Hart made 31 saves and showed the poise he has in goal. There’s a good chance we’ll see him again for the third game of the season on Monday. It shows now more than ever how important it is that the Flyers have a goaltender capable of playing like this. Hart’s the most valuable Flyer on this team, and as Alain Vigneault said, there’s no reason to apologize for good goaltending.
Travis Konecny appeared to end his goalless drought in the season opener, but noted after the game was over that the goal should go to Oskar Lindblom. It was later changed.
Call it good karma, but Konecny was the guy around the net and in scoring position a lot in this game. He started his night with a power-play goal off a nice passing play by Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek. He quickly followed it up with another goal, a rebound off his skate that found its way into the net.
With the Flyers still clinging to a one-goal lead in the third, Konecny delivered again. He didn’t even get his stick on the pass from Kevin Hayes, but the puck found the net to complete his first career hat trick. He later added an assist on Lindblom's empty-net goal to complete a four-point night.
If you were worried that a goalless playoff ruined Konecny’s confidence or showed he can’t score, think again. He’s picking up where he left off a season ago, and that’s good news for the Flyers.
3. Losing Couturier
Now to some of the bad. In addition to some poor play on the ice, the Flyers got 45 seconds of ice time from Sean Couturier before a hit to his shoulder knocked him out of the game. Following the game, Vigneault’s only update was that Couturier needs an MRI, which will take place on Saturday. The team is off until Sunday, which will likely be when the next update happens.
Couturier’s absence on the ice was apparent though. The Flyers struggled to find their structure and the play on the ice was too loose and filled with mistakes. The Penguins had a number of odd-man rushes and the Flyers struggled with turnovers throughout the game. It could have easily turned the tide the other way.
The Flyers have one player at each spot that they can’t afford to lose long-term. Obviously, they need Hart to make a successful run. Defensively, they need Ivan Provorov. Up front, Couturier’s presence and role are too critical for him to be out long-term. He plays in all situations, he provides so much defensive responsibility and he makes it possible for the Flyers to contain top scorers. Even though Sidney Crosby scored his goal on the power play, he could have easily cashed in a couple more times.
For now, the Flyers wait for the results of the MRI, but they have to hope that Couturier’s injury does not keep him out for long. While their depth has been on full display in both games, a loss like this will surely test it.
4. Patrick Finding His Footing
In the first game of the season, the line of Hayes, Giroux and Farabee led the way for the Flyers. In this game, they were much more contained, especially with Giroux and Hayes both getting time trying to fill the void of Couturier’s absence on the top line.
Another player who also pitched in with some extra time was Patrick. Outside of Giroux and Hayes, Patrick had the third-highest ice time among forwards, playing 17:42 in his second game back. So much for easing him back in.
The good news is that Patrick really hasn’t looked out of place since returning. His power move to the net set up Konecny’s second goal. After being a line that Vigneault said spent too much time in their own zone in the first game, they were perhaps the only line that wasn’t regularly trapped in their own at even strength.
Patrick still has room to get better as he works his way back, but clearly he will remain in the lineup as long as he can stay healthy. He’s made the Flyers a better team immediately, and can only continue to improve with more time.
5. Off to a Good Start
As the season approached, I talked regularly about the importance of getting off a strong start in a shortened season. In one sense, that meant the Flyers needed to be a crisper and more effective team from the beginning. But it is also about results too, and even in games when you don’t perform the best, you still come out on top.
These last two games haven’t been the best for the Flyers. Far from it. There are mistakes that need correcting and there are still areas of the game that will take time to get back into full gear without the benefit of a preseason. But the Flyers are 2-0. They have four points in the standings. It’s the first time they have won the first two games of the season in back-to-back seasons since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.
It is especially important early in this shortened 56-game schedule to pick up wins early. Even if they aren’t the most pretty wins now, they certainly will look better as the season progresses, as things get better, and as the team draws closer to a potential playoff appearance.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.